The USA for wine lovers

Napa Valley, California

The United States is the world’s fourth-biggest wine-producing nation, after France, Italy and Spain. It’s also seven times bigger than those three great European wine countries combined, so wine lovers will have to choose carefully where to go. Everyone’s heard of Napa Valley, which is probably the USA’s number one wine attraction, but even California has several other wine-making regions which, in my view, are more attractive than Napa.
Words by Mike Gerrard

IN fact, every state in the nation makes wine, including unlikely places such as Texas, Arizona and Hawaii. Not only do these place make wine, they make good wine. They even make wine in Alaska, but it’s from imported grapes, while the resourceful Alaskans also make wine from potatoes, beet, rhubarb and onions, amongst other things. There are vineyards in such improbable places as Utah, Wyoming and North Dakota. And if you’ve seen Fargo, you’ll know why North Dakota is improbable – though as unbelievable as it sounds, there’s actually a vineyard in Fargo.

Although every state in the nation does make wine, 95% of the USA’s wine is produced in California, Washington, Oregon and New York State, though places like Texas and Virginia are increasing their production all the time. Here’s my choice of the ten most interesting wine regions to visit.

California

Although Napa Valley has to be the number one choice for wine-lovers, with its vineyards large and small, boutique hotels and some of the USA’s top restaurants, there are other choices in California. Right next door to Napa is Sonoma, which is prettier, and even more beautiful is Paso Robles wine country, further south.

Even further south, in and around Santa Barbara, you can still do a tour of wineries and other locations featured in the 2004 hit movie, Sideways. Here’s a downloadable map to guide you on your way.

How to Visit
Black Tomato has a ‘Wine Galore in Santa Barbara’ tour, inspired by Sideways:

Washington

Washington State is second only to California for US wine production, with over 700 wineries, the Columbia Valley providing some of its best wine, as well as being beautifully scenic. The climate lends itself more to white wines, with Chardonnay and Riesling being the predominant grape varieties.

How to Visit
American Sky’s Washington and Oregon fly-drive could include some of the two states’ wine regions:

New York State

The city of New York looms so large in the minds of UK visitors to the USA that New York State gets overlooked. Wine lovers shouldn’t overlook it, however, as it is the 3rd biggest wine-producing region, and is famous for its unusual ice wines. These are rich and tasty dessert wines made by freezing the grape on the vine and mostly made from the Vignoles grape. The other grape variety that grows well here is Riesling.

How to Visit
Try the North America Travel Service’s New York Skyline and Scenery tour, which includes the Finger Lakes region:

Virginia

Virginia is rapidly developing as an important wine region, with its tobacco plantations being replaced by vineyards. It has eight distinct wine-growing areas, the largest of which, the Shenandoah Valley, allows you to combine wine-tastings with enjoying some of the state’s most impressive scenery. It was also home to Thomas Jefferson, one of the USA’s first wine experts and collectors. One to try here is the Viognier grape, producing some remarkably good wines.

How to Visit
Key to America’s Colonial America fly-drive goes through some of Virginia’s wine country:

Hawaii

OK, Hawaii doesn’t make the best wine in the world, and only has one grape variety that grows well here, the Symphony. Other wine is made from pineapples and guava, while the Symphony grape produces a medium white wine. Most of the few vineyards are on Maui, and at higher elevations, and it’s certainly fun to visit places like the Volcano Winery.

Oregon

Oregon produces my favourite American wines, their full and luscious Pinot Noirs. There are several wine regions in the state, the biggest being the Willamette Valley, where some of the best Pinot Noir is made. The Walla Walla valley, with almost 100 wineries, and the Columbia Valley, which is split between Oregon and Washington State, are other places to head for.

How to Visit
North American Highways offers an Oregon Pacific Coast and Cascade Mountains fly-drive tour, allowing you to visit both Oregon and Washington:

About the Author